Stop Elder Abuse

elder-abuseWhile we were back in Nebraska Mrs Heidelblog and I had occasion to drive past a billboard warning about the dangers of elder abuse. You know you’re Reformed when the first thing such a warning brings to mind is life in the church. Of course, the neglect and abuse of senior citizens is a problem that must be addressed. The Baby Boom is long over. Abortion (1.5 million lives snuffed out each year) and other habits have led to the “Graying of America” at the same time as the legalization of pot, high long-term unemployment, and rampant distraction by screens and phones. It’s not a promising combination. Elder abuse also happens, however, in the church and I doubt that anyone will put up a billboard to warn about it. Paul, however, did warn about it:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:17–22, ESV)

The fifth commandment says, “honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12; ESV). The church has always understood this command to imply submission to divinely instituted authorities beyond one’s parents. Paul applies it to the magistrate (Romans 13). It also applies to ecclesiastical governors. The pastor to the Jewish Christians, who were being tempted to turn away from Jesus wrote:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17, ESV).

This is the ecclesiastical application of the fifth commandment.

Historically Americans have been great for rebellion. That’s how we became Americans. Our spirit of independence, self-reliance, and independence helped to make this a great country. The virtues, however, do not translate well in the church. This is yet another reason why it is important to realize that God has a “twofold government” in the world. He has a distinct way of governing in the civil and ecclesiastical realms. To be sure, there are analogies. In both cases we are to submit to the duly constituted authorities and in both cases, as the Reformed have long recognized, there are remedies for abuse of the people at the hands of the authorities. Nevertheless, when it comes to the visible, institutional church, the Scriptures enjoin on us an attitude of submission and a desire to protect those who look after the welfare of our souls that it does not require of us regarding the civil magistrate, who looks after our outward, common, shared life. The magistrate, in his office, is not enjoined to pray for us. Indeed, in general terms, it seems from the New Testament that the less we have to do with the magistrate, the better it will be for us. In the church, however, we have to do with our elders and ministers weekly. They bring Christ’s Word to us. The civil magistrate resolves disputes but our elders and ministers bring the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to us. They bring the Word of Life to us.

After the fall, there is a basic human resistance to governance of all kinds. That spirit of resistance to government is evident in Lamech (Gen 4:23). In the church, that spirit is particularly destructive since the leadership in the church seems particularly tenuous. Resistance to duly constituted civil authorities may be enforced with a pepper spray or worse. The rules of the church are enforced with mere words. Satan loves to damage the church through doubt, dissension, and discord and words are his main vehicle.

January is the time when many congregations elect new elders. This month men will be assembling for their first elder meetings. You will know the new elders. They are those whose eyes get big as saucers when the discipline reports are read and considered. They had no idea what was coming. Welcome to consistory (session). Elder training courses are useful preparation but there’s no way to prepare new elders for some of the stark realities of life in the church. After that first meeting their view of the church will never be the same. Yes, brother, those are Christ’s little ones, for whom he died, whom he has called you to shepherd in his place, with his Word, in his Spirit. Pray for your elders but particularly for those just elected. They will need the grace and mercy of Christ as they sit through sometimes long and difficult meetings every month.

I am not advocating silence in the face of abuse. If elders act outside their office or if they sin against you or the congregation, there are legitimate ways to address grievances in the church. That’s why we have a church order. Pray for grace and courage, trust the Lord, and follow the process. That’s a better way than grumbling and bitterness. If an elder is abusing you, he may also be abusing others. In that case, if you speak up courageously, you will be loving your neighbor and serving your Savior. When the elders, however, act according to God’s Word, within the confines of the church order, we need to recognize their office as instituted by Christ himself and to submit to them as we would submit to Christ for his sake and for the sake of his body, “which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

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    • It varies. We’re not always there over a Sabbath but when we are we usually find ourselves in one of the NAPARC congregations in Lincoln or Omaha. My dear friend Alan Mallory is pastor of Harvest PCA at 39th and Cumming and we have worshipped there many times.

  1. Here we have another anti-Cannabis warrior. Two things stand out: 1. Amillennialism- picturing the kingdom as an gradual outworking through the church towards a “better world.” Even if this were the case, it is a bad idea to adopt “a prohibition” that has only started primarily in 1937 and then spread through the UN as a treaty. Cannabis use has a long history in China and India without damage, but instead positive medicinal and social consumption. There is a nearly 10,000 page comprehensive Cannabis study conducted by British physicians in 1893-4 which concluded the most minimal harm if any to Cannabis. The study was ignored because Britain had other pressing matters at the study’s conclusion and pot wasn’t an issue in England.

    2. Where is the Bible in all this anti-pot rhetoric? To take pharmakeia as recreational drug use or to find drug prohibitions in the Bible is bad exegesis. I was once an anti-pot warrior also, but upon examination, concluded no warrant exists for an anti-Cannabis stance.

    • Alex,

      Who is making a case against legalized cannabis from Scripture? My concern is more practical. I’m well aware of the failure of prohibition. Personally, I’m conflicted. I tend toward libertarianism but I also ask/wonder when legalization = approval.

      Clearly the president, like a lot of other folk, hasn’t read the more recent accounts about the nature of the weed being sold today or even picked up the phone to talk to the director of the NIH. The cannabis that is for sale today is said to have a much higher degree of THC than the stuff the president smoked as a kid. It’s been genetically modified. That fact seems to be ignored in the current debate.

      ps. why did you post this comment under this post?

  2. He probably posted it due to your statement “The Baby Boom is long over. Abortion (1.5 million lives snuffed out each year) and other habits have led to the “Graying of America” at the same time as the legalization of pot, high long-term unemployment, and rampant distraction by screens and phones. Sounds like it’s a hot-button issue for Alex and you pressed it.

  3. True, I am an activist for Cannabis normalization and have been since the mid 60s. I quit Cannabis after becoming a Christian and going to Bible college and seminary until my theology professor pointed out the fallacy of moralism and attributing ethical or moral qualities to substances.

    Now I am a chronic pain sufferer for 10 years. My doctor at the time wanted to put me on Vioxx. I am glad I declined. I get relief from Cannabis use and am medically licensed. I do not see harm if someone used pot recreationally though. If a person gets high in the morning, by the evening they can smoke and tolerance build up will have kicked in and it will not be noticed for the most part (this is my experience).

    The issue of pot being stronger is true but it has come about from traditional breeding practices and not from genetic engineering. I am quite up to date in my knowledge and GE pot is not an issue yet. Show me where any GE pot is found. It is not available from any major source. People are purifying the substance yes, but this is to smoke pure resin where only one toke is needed and not unwanted vegetable material which is just that: vegetable material.

    Christians should be informed correctly instead of resorted to almost hysterical stances (not you Dr. Clark, but most others). All creation is from God and he created Cannabis as “good.”

    • Alex,

      I’m sorry for your suffering. I don’t oppose the medically supervised use of cannabis for pain relief but I worry about the social and economic effects of pudgy 15-year stoners wandering the streets. That’s not an exaggeration. Come to California. The odor of weed is commonplace as are the effects on the economy and the development of young people. A story connecting pot usage among young people to schizophrenia appeared in mid-December.

      My concern is that people are naive about the current nature of weed, e.g., the president’s comments the other day. If the president, who has access to the best of everything, including research, is ignorant about pot how ignorant must state legislators be? Our leaders frequently make important decisions on the basis of misinformation. I was recently reminded how ignorant and confused the court was about the nature of fetal development when they decided Roe v Wade.

  4. There’s another little factor to take into consideration, too, regarding this business of legalizing marijuana for “recreational” use: Although I’m not a prohibitionist, either, we already have enough problems with people drinking in excess and then getting behind the wheel of an automobile (it almost seems to some people that being able to drink as much one wants and then driving home is part of the Bill of Rights). The kill people that way. So do we want to add to the fray by encouraging people buzzed on pot to do the same thing? How do you enforce it THAT, if general use is permitted. Now, this is not to say that it’s not happening already, but to look the other way and legalize the process is only asking for more of the same.

    I assume those who get permission to use it for medical purposes have restrictions placed upon them in this regard – at least, I hope they do.

    (before answering these questions, consider that you may be addressing people on the blog who have had friends or relatives killed by drunken drivers)

  5. With all due respect Dr. Clark “news stories” is not the best place for information. I clicked on the link but it wouldn’t load for me. I am well aware of the topic of the studies and some were badly flawed it was proven.

    You may see cause and effect b/w pot and pudgy teenagers but I do not. It certainly is not the case historically with traditional use.

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